Verizon and Motorola might have launched the Droid 3 with little fanfare, but we'll have none of that here, folks. We present you with the third installment of the phone that nearly single-handedly put Android on the worldwide smartphone map.
So what's new with this guy? We've got a larger screen, a dual-core processor and a revamped keyboard, for starters. Plus it's loaded with Android 2.3.4 and has a new version of Motorola's shall-not-be-called-Blur user interface.
It's a mix of the familiar and the new. And it's broken down in full Android Central review fashion after the break.
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On the outside
Pick up the Droid 3 for the first time, and the physical change from the Droid 2 is immediately apparent. It's got more of a boxy feel to it, with the sides of the phone nearly flat, instead the Droid 2's more angular feel.
The front of the phone's gotten a makeover, too. The chin remains beneath the capacitive buttons, but it's been redesigned as well, going from concave to a gentle downward slope. On the Droid 2, the display and chin were one, sliding up to review the keyboard. On the Droid 3, the display is a single piece.
The screen's now 4 inches, and detaching it from the chin helps make it look even bigger. It's also been bumped up to qHD resolution -- 540x960. But we're having a bit of the same problem with it that we had on the Droid X2 -- individual pixels at times are still too pronounced, even at the higher resolution. Not all the time, mind you, but enough so's we've noticed.The display also using the PenTile technology, which has kept a lot of people up nights. To each his (or her) own.
The earpiece is smaller now, and it's got a nice silver accent to it. There's a 0.3MP front-facing camera to its right, and a notification light next to the front camera.
Up top, the power button's been moved to the center. We'd prefer it to be where the 3.5mm headphone jack is now found, on the right-hand side of the top bezel. That's a more natural resting place for our index finger. That's not to say the Droid 3 is difficult to turn on and off -- it's just not as comfortable as it could have been.
The volume rocker on the right-hand side of the phone is small, and we'd prefer a little more definition between the buttons, but you shouldn't have any problem finding them. The left-hand bezel has the microUSB port and HDMI out.
Now, let's get down to brass tacks. At the heart of any version of the Motorola Droid is its full QWERTY keyboard. The layout of the keys on the Droid 3 is mostly the same, but a dedicated number row has been added up top. And, most important, there's now a little breathing room between the individual keys, and that makes a huge difference in the overall feel.
The keys themselves retain the same plastic feel, but that extra spacing really does make them easier to use. They're also slightly offset., which we prefer to the previous versions, in which the keys sat in line with one another in a perfect square pattern. The keypress is nearly perfect, with just the right amount of click to it.
Motorola's also done a nice job of choosing which keys are top level, and which require use of the ALT button first. There's the dedicated number row, of course, which has proven to be more useful than we imagined. There's also a dedicated microphone button for starting a voice to text input, search key, and the @ symbol is top level. (Between e-mails and Twitter, there's nothing more annoying than having it buried as a secondary function.)
The dedicated arrow keys remain, too, and are nice for getting the cursor in the right place to edit words.
The slider mechanism on the Droid 3 is pretty stiff -- almost too stiff. That's probably because our phone's brand-new more than anything else, so we'll withhold judgment for a while on that one. But if it's anything like the previous Droids, it should hold up well over time. When you slide up the screen to reveal the keyboard, the display automatically switches from portrait to landscape, as well it should.
The battery cover's been redone, too. Gone is the easy-to-remove sliding door found in the first two versions. Now we have a cover that comprises nearly the entire back of the phone. It pries off from the top, and you'll need to remember to replace it from the bottom up. There's a cutout for the rear-facing 8MP camera.
There's nothing really surprising under the battery cover. The Droid 3 comes with a removable 1500 mAh battery. It'll also come with a Verizon/Vodafone SIM card for use on GSM networks outside the United States, if you're into that sort of thing. There's also a slot for a microSD card. We say "a slot" because the Droid 3 doesn't actually come with a microSD card; you're on your own to provide one. But with some 11GB or so of storage space already on the phone, you might not even need to worry about it. But if you want, you can slap up to a 32GB card in there.
You'll also notice four brass-colored pins under the battery cover. Those are for the optional wireless charging battery cover.
On the inside
Let's talk software and the stuff that runs it.
The Droid 3's gotten a boost under the hood, too, benefiting from a TI OMAP dual-core processor running at 1GHz. It still "only" has 512MB of RAM, however. We know that's keeping some of you up at night.
If you're new to dual-core devices, there's really not a whole lot to get used to. Dual-core phones look and feel just like single-core phones. They don't get hotter. They're no bigger. You won't get through e-mail any faster, and your phone calls aren't clearer. Where you'll see the biggest is in graphics rendering -- games, especially -- and if you plug your phone into a high-definition TV for video output.
But you will get better battery life because the processor doesn't have to work as hard. And speaking of battery life, we've had a bit of a shock going for a 4G LTE device on Verizon back to 3G-only data on the Droid 3. Being able to use a phone -- as in really use, not just sparingly for more than 6 hours without having to recharge almost seems like a novelty. That said, it's also a bit of a shock going back to the slower data speeds. That's the trade-off.
The Droid 3 is rocking Android 2.3.4 out of the box. That's the latest version of Gingerbread. The new non-Motoblur skin (Philblur!) is decent enough. Swishing your way between the homes screens is quick enough, but there are instances of lag when launching some apps, or even just opening the app drawer. This seems to have gotten better over time.
The new user interface is a continuation and refinement of the old Blur introduced on the Droid X (which, coincidentally, also wasn't called Blur). It's still a bit cold and metallic-feeling compared to the likes of HTC Sense or Samsung's Touchwiz, but Motorola's thrown in a bunch of little tweaks that really makes the UI feel well-thought out.
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You've got five home screens on which to place app shortcuts, widgets and whatever else you feel like personalizing. We're relatively pleased with what's on the home screens by default. You've got the Google search widget and Verizon's data usage widget, plus a nicely done favorite contacts widget. You get your top four contacts. But drag down on the widget (it's springy), and it'll open up a larger favorite contacts window, which expands to 20 contacts. There's also a handy scrollable calendar widget. Along with all that, you get app shortcuts to a guided tour, your account info, mobile hotspot, voicemail, e-mail, browser and the Android Market, plus Verizon's VCAST apps and VZ Navigator.
We're less enthused about the docked icons at the bottom of the screen. By default, they're set to phone dialer, text messaging, camera and app drawer. The phone dialer and app drawer icons are intuitive enough. but the text messaging icon looks like an envelope (actually, it looks more like an upside down Xbox controller). And while it's directly beneath the app icon plainly labeled "E-mail," we won't blame you if you hit the wrong one from time to time. And the camera icon -- it looks like a front-loading washing machine, not a camera. Maybe we're being a tad nit-picky here. But then again, that's what we're paid for. The good news is you can swap out any of the docked icons, save for the app drawer.
There's no shortage of preloaded apps on the Droid 3. You've got all the usual stuff -- e-mail, gmail, clock, alarm, etc. -- plus a smattering of stuff courtesy of Verizon. Those apps include: Amazon Kindle, VCAST Apps, BlockBuster, Citrix Receiver, City ID, DLNA (for wireless media streaming), GoToMeeting, Let's Golf 2, Mobile Hotspot, MOTOPRINT (for printing from your phone to a printer), NFL Mobile, NOVA, Quickoffice, Slacker, Social Location, Socia Networking, a task manager, VCAST media, music, ringtones and video, voice command, VZ Navigator and ZumoCast.
More on MOTOPRINT
The ability to print from your phone is pretty cool, and kudos to Verizon and Motorola for including it. The bad news is that there's a pretty good chance your current printer won't be supported. Fortunately, there's a "PC Host" program you can add to your computer to serve as a bridge. Not quite the same as full wireless printing, but it gets the job done. Find more at motorola.com/MOTOPRINT
A couple more notes on Moto's customizations:
- The app drawer is a horizontal scroller. So of if you're used to vertical, get over it. Or just install a third-party launcher.
- From the center home screen, press the home button again to get a quick view of all five home screens. Then you can easily hop from one to another.
- Go to Settings>Applications and you can set a quick launch app -- ie, double-tap the home button to launch the camera, browser, maps, etc.
- You can change the size of some of the widgets, just like on previous versions of non-Blur Blur.
- The UI animations work just fine in landscape orientation when the keyboard is open.
- It includes Motorola's multi-touch soft keyboard, as well as Swype.
- You can uninstall apps from the app drawer. Just press and hold on an app icon, and choose uninstall from the menu.
Holy smokes, the Droid 3 has itself a decent little camera. The camera app is pretty familiar, with one-touch switching to video, or to the front camera.
Is it as good as, say, HTC's new myTouch 4G Slide? Well, it still takes too long to get the camera app open. There's no physical shutter button, but that's the trend these days. However, images and video from the rear camera were pretty good.
In the main camera settings, you'll find the option to shoot in full 8MP resolution, or 6MP widescreen (to fill the Droid 3's screen), which is what you see below.
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Video at 1080p is pretty darn good, but you'll definitely notice the difference in audio quality depending on which side of the phone you're on.
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Other odds and ends
- As a phone, well, it's a phone. Calls were clear over Verizon's network.
- Again, remember that the Droid 3 is not an LTE phone. 3G data only.
- The speakerphone is competent enough -- Motorola's always done that well.
- GPS locked on without a hitch.
The wrap up
So that's the Droid 3. It's a lot like the Droid 2, only better. And that's clearly Motorola and Verizon's M.O. here. Why mess with a good thing?
Is the Droid 3 the phone for you? There are a few ways to look at it.
- You've got a fast smartphone, with excellent battery life.
- The keyboard is at its best in this iteration. Maybe not as good as HTC's, but it's finally worthy of mentioning in the same breath.
- Running the most recent version of the Android OS.
- An above-average camera with HD video recording.
- It's not the lightest (184 grams) or thinnest (64.1 x 123.3 x 12.9 mm) phone out there.
- Once you've used Verizon's LTE data, it's tough to go back to 3G.
- If you don't have to have a slide-out keyboard, you probably don't need the Droid 3.
The amazing thing is this: current owners of the original Motorola Droid are closing in on their two-year contract anniversary. And if they've fallen in love with the form factor, re-upping with the Droid 3 might be a tough thing to avoid, so long as LTE's not a factor.
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